Andy Hunter of The Guardian joined us for another exclusive in-depth LFC interview where we discussed 2017, the January transfer window, Liverpool’s summer targets, Daniel Sturridge, Dejan Lovren and more!
Listen to the full interview below or read the full transcript, exclusively on Anfield HQ.
AHQ: It was obviously a hugely disappointing defeat to Crystal Palace at Anfield. It’s the worst time for Liverpool to slip up against a so-called ‘weaker’ side. What were your thoughts on the game and where did it really go wrong for Klopp?
AH: Yeah it was disappointing, damaging too. The full extent of the damage will be revealed with what Manchester United can do but I think it’s a tall order to expect them to take maximum points from their games in hand, looking at their away games.
It was flat from the start on Sunday. Liverpool’s track record at home to Palace, knowing in advance what Palace have got: a big strong defence, two quick wingers and a powerful centre forward who’s good in the air – all the things Liverpool have repeatedly struggled against until the Stoke and West Brom games away.
A flat start added to the sense of ‘here we go again’ and I think as well as Allardyce explained afterwards, they set up to conceded possession to Liverpool, breaking it down as we will hit on the counter attack and set-pieces. It was like a checklist of all Liverpool’s problems this season and it came back to bite them at a really bad time.
The amount of injuries and players Liverpool have got out at the moment, it does perhaps suit them to be away from home and dig out results. Klopp’s spoken repeatedly about how they need to learn how to win ugly and described the game against West Brom as an ‘adult performance’. When the onus is on Liverpool to break down teams and without Mané and Lallana it’s a big ask to do it all the time especially against a team like Palace, who shouldn’t have been near the relegation zone in the first place.
It was a big ask to be on the front foot against a team that set up that way. You look at Klopp’s substitutions as well, he was trying anything he could to stretch the game and add to Liverpool’s attacking threat. He was pretty short on options for a team that’s third in the league and pushing for a top-four finish.
AHQ: You talk about the bench there, obviously Klopp couldn’t have planned or anticipated the amount of injuries Liverpool would have heading into the back end of the season, but are you one of those who feels he made a mistake in not trying to strengthen the squad in January?
AH: I wouldn’t necessarily criticise him too much for that. It wasn’t a case of they got to December and thought they weren’t going to bother. They were trying for one or two good players who would have enhanced a team that was already second in the league. The strength of Liverpool’s squad has cost them but if the right players aren’t there in January there’s not much you can do – Draxler was a player Klopp liked but was lined up by PSG well in advance of the window.
Klopp’s transfer policy last summer payed dividends at the start of the season. He’s one that prefers to get his targets done early in the summer and embed them in pre-season. You can’t argue with how effective that was with Liverpool’s start but perhaps a few more would have given them strength in depth. I expect that to be remedied this summer. I don’t think not signing players in January was the top and bottom of why Liverpool went without a win and cost them the title challenge.
AHQ: The focus is now very much Champions League football now. Liverpool are in third, three points ahead of Manchester United who are in fifth with games in hand. In terms of Liverpool’s transfer pursuits, along with financial benefits, how important is it that they get back into Europe and do you feel it’s still an achievable target after the Palace game?
AH: Champions League makes such a big difference to any club’s transfer policies. It was interesting – Klopp said Liverpool have already had some positive talks with targets which was quite telling, but until a deal is over the line there’s nothing to get excited about.
Being in the Champions League does have a massive impact. Liverpool are in a different position to other clubs that are challenging in that they’ve got the name, the global following and the financial backing. They’re stronger than many of their rivals for a player and that will help them, but players want to be in Europe’s elites and they want to see progress of a club. That’s another factor that will be in Liverpool’s favour this summer.
There is progress being made on and off the pitch – players and agents all around the world can see that and people want to buy into that. Klopp is clear on what he wants after his first full season in charge. If Chelsea or Manchester United come in for Van Dijk this summer, if Liverpool don’t have Champions League to offer they’ll be struggling to compete.
It has a massive impact but I still think that Liverpool are in a strong position to qualify. One, because United’s fixture list is pretty daunting for the injury problems they have and their focus is on the Europa League. They’ve got the most difficult run-in and I wouldn’t expect them to win all their games. Liverpool have got the points on the board which gives them an advantage.
There’s no shying away from it, their performance level has to improve markedly from what we saw on Sunday and they have to improve on what we saw at Stoke as well. Watford will be a difficult game, winnable but that’s not a forgone conclusion either. Lallana coming back will have a big impact. It’s always two steps forward and one step back but now they’ve got to take four steps forward and then I’d expect them to be in the Champions League.
If they can play anywhere near their potential, it will be enough to keep United and Arsenal at bay.
AHQ: It’s been widely reported that Virgil Van Dijk and Naby Keita are the number one transfer targets, but how much would those two improve the Liverpool first team and does and, hypothetically speaking if Liverpool reach the Champions League, are you confident that the pulling power of Liverpool could get them to the club?
AH: Champions League will be a determining factor on all number one targets but it’s not the be all and end all for a club like Liverpool, with the club’s pulling power. I do think both players are exactly what Liverpool need and Klopp is circumspect when it comes to discussing what he wants. He’ll speak generally about transfers but he won’t go into detail on names or specify the type of player he needs because of what it would say about the players already at the club.
It’s quite evident that both players [Van Dijk and Keita] are high on his transfer wishlist and I certainly think in terms of Keita, I think Liverpool have a very good chance of getting him.
As we saw against Benteke, although you don’t come up against him every week, a dominant commanding centre-half with a little class would help and I think Van Dijk ticks all those boxes. He would slip quite seamlessly into this Liverpool side with what is required.
Ryan Sessegnon is also a target and will be able to sign for Liverpool despite the transfer embargo on academy players because he’s seventeen before the next transfer window so he can sign a professional contract. I think Milner’s done really well but you’ve got to look long term as well.
I’m a bit surprised that Klopp is so emphatic on goalkeeping options although to be fair, he’s given himself a let out in that he’s been emphatic on not wanting to sign Joe Hart this summer which is fair enough. I was more surprised in his backing of both Mignolet and Karius, suggesting that it would not be an area he would be strengthening at all.
AHQ: A lot of wide players have been linked with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain peaking interest, is that a position you see Klopp wanting to strengthen this summer?
AH: I do. I think the number of wide players being linked with is a bit of a giveaway. Agents will be aware of what Liverpool are looking for and will be pressing their clients for a move to Anfield.
Klopp’s been interested in Brandt for a while but the Chamberlain one is interesting, mainly because the price tag has been reported as being £35 million which I find absolutely staggering and underwhelming.
Liverpool have struggled when without Mané’s pace and it is something he [Klopp] would want to address this summer – it might not necessarily be wide players but I think he’ll want players with pace in case anything happens to Mané.
AHQ: Chamberlain has been linked in the past and that was wide of the mark and possibly agent talk, do you think now there is a genuine interest in him?
AH: I think Liverpool will be considering all their options. There is a lot of uncertainty around Arsenal and Chamberlain’s contract so not at £35 million, but Liverpool have a list of many players that Klopp thinks is suitable and fit the criteria for Liverpool. There will be the question of how much can we get him for but if Arsenal are asking for £35 million, I think there is a better candidate out there than him at that price.
Liverpool are linked with several players on a day to day basis and most of them are wide of the mark but a club of Liverpool’s side will have an extensive transfer wishlist and being in the Champions League will allow them to focus on the top end of that list.
AHQ: Is Daniel Sturridge’s Liverpool career over and does he need replacing with a 20-goal per season forward?
AH: Yes and yes. I think he will go in the summer and it’s a shame because of his undoubted talents. I don’t think there is a personal clash there between the manager and Sturridge. Klopp has been genuine when talking about the quality he sees from Sturridge on the training pitch and that’s the key, he sees it on the training pitch on the few occasions when he’s fit.
You have to look at the cold hard facts and if he has contributed to Liverpool this season and it’s not a great deal.
I would expect Liverpool to pursue a more proven goalscorer to rely on, not necessarily even one who has Daniel Sturridge’s quality but someone who has a better fitness record so he can be relied upon a bit more and trusted.
AHQ: A lot of journalists and the media have come out and said Liverpool wont be prepared to sell Sturridge on the cheap, but do you think his injury record and contribution this season is leverage for clubs that are interested in him because will a club really come and pay £20m for a player who’s started just 5 premier league games this season?
AH: I think it is leverage for the club. The latest injury is untimely as well because if he had a strong end to the season, then as a selling club Liverpool can say ‘well he’s over the worst now but look at his quality’, like that goal against Sevilla.
Sturridge’s injury record is an exceptional circumstance, I think any buying club would have to look at that in detail before they can consider what price to pay for him, but he is an England international with a fabulous goal scoring record, who if fit is an asset to any premier league team, so I think a lot of clubs would quite happily take the risk on him but in terms of commanding a top price for him then undoubtedly his injury record damages Liverpool as a selling club on that aspect.
To be honest, last summer was ridiculous in terms of prices anyway, they just plucked any figure and went with it and clubs are prepared to pay it and I don’t see this summer being any different. I think managing to get £15m for Jordon Ibe, and that happened early days, which made you think last summer was going to be ridiculous, and it was.
In terms of how much Liverpool will get for Sturridge, it is pretty much up in the air, £25m? Right now when he’s out injured again it seems a bit of an inflated price, not for his talent but more for his reliability, but if fit, of course he’s worth that money.
AHQ: It would be interesting to see the outcome of the talks between him and the manager at the end of the season but in terms of a replacement, you see names linked every day such as Aubameyang and Lacazette. Obviously being in the Champions League is big factor in this but do you think if Liverpool do get in, players like the calibre of Lacazette are likely?
AH: I don’t think he’s the main target but it’s certainly credible. He’s been linked to the Premier league for 3 or 4 years now and if Liverpool have the money and Champions League football to offer and they’ve got the manager & the squad, I don’t think it is a struggle for Klopp to sell Liverpool as a genuine challenger.
He’s looked at January and seen where its gone wrong but you can also see the progression that the team is slowly making. It’s there and I think if he was to go to Aubameyang or someone like that, its quite clear that the team is making progress, we are not a million miles away from competing alongside Tottenham or Chelsea.
Klopp said last week that Liverpool is an interesting project for any player that’s on the outside looking in and obviously he’s biased but its true, its a league most players want to play in, its got the money, Liverpool may have Champions League to offer and we’ve got the manager. A lot of the squad is sorted but obviously there’s always room or improvement and as this season has shown in sections but not consistently enough, Liverpool are not a million miles away, so I do think Liverpool are a better sell this summer than they were last summer.
AHQ: It’s clear that there has been progress, it tends to be a similar pattern though which has been demoralising fans. A lot of Liverpool fans are looking at it developing and thinking it’s going to be similar struggle, that we are going to lose out on the top four as well….
AH: It does promote a resignation, ‘oh here we go again’, and to be honest Klopp volunteered that on Sunday. He said ‘I know people will be thinking Champions league football is slipping though our hands again, it’s up to us to make sure that it doesn’t slip.’ No one asked him if he thinks Champions League football is slipping through their fingers, he volunteered that line, he’s well aware of the atmosphere and emotion around the club and amongst the fans and probably the people who he works with every day, and not just the players but the staff at Melwood.
Of course after losing to Palace on Sunday there is that sense of ‘here we go again’, but I see the players that Liverpool have got in certain positions which are extremely strong and there’s enough surely for them to get over the line, the Stoke and West Brom games were good examples of how Liverpool can do that, which is something that the club have not really been renowned for in recent years.
Fingers crossed for Liverpool that Palace was a one off but the track record this season suggest it might not be, but I think they’ve got enough in them this season to win the next 4 games and get in the Champions League.
AHQ: Moving on to outgoings, last summer was very good for the club. We’ve discussed Daniel Sturridge, but the likes of Alberto Moreno and Mamadou Sakho, are you expecting them to leave the club and Liverpool to raise a fair bit of money from them?
AH: It’s more individual circumstances that will dictate who leaves this summer whereas last summer was the end of a new managers first season. He’s had a proper look at everyone and decided who’s good enough and who’s not.
As circumstances have changed, certainly in the cases of Moreno, Sakho, Sturridge and Lucas as well – he’s early 30s and still got a lot of football in him so he could move on. I wouldn’t be surprised if those four went and certainly sizeable figures for three of them.
We say that about Lucas every year though and he’s still doing it for Liverpool, but I think there seems to be an acceptance between him and club that if an offer comes in where he can play regularly for a decent club then he’ll move on.
I would expect a trimming of the first team squad without the wholesale clear out of last summer. We’ve only spoken about four players there which shows a lot of the trimming work has already been done.
AHQ: A lot of fans were pushing for a Lucas ten year testimonial, but do you think following the celebrations last night, it’s not something the club would consider having?
AH: There doesn’t seem to be that much noise about it. I think if there had been, it would have been done already and we would have heard more in terms of plans being proposed.
Maybe if he’s still at the club in August when it comes to the usual pre-season home game before the season starts there might be something, but I think there would be more in the pipeline than there is at the minute if that was the case.
AHQ: Just moving on to contracts. There has been a lot of stick for Dejan Lovren at the weekends game and in some areas rightly so. He seems to be another one set for a long-term deal at the club. Do you think that’s based predominantly on merit or Liverpool wanting to protect his value?
AH: A bit of both to be honest. We’re talking after not one of Lovren’s best performances in recent months but I do think if your’e a club wanting to compete in the Champions League and sustaining a challenge at the top of the Premier League, it’s a case of not getting rid of Lovren to replace him with Van Dijk, but to get him in on top of what’s already there to strengthen in that department.
They’ll be needing more options there and I wouldn’t necessarily think that’s the end of Lovren’s time because Klopp wants Van Dijk. For a team who will be in the Champions League with eyes on competing in the league, Liverpool need a stronger squad.
In many ways Lovren sums the club up, just when you think he’s established himself and looking like a steady asset, he’ll have a game like Sunday and be back to square one. But he’s not the only one in the Liverpool team who does that and it is reflective of where Liverpool are at the moment.
If you’re looking for a stronger defence you would have someone above him but still keep him there to make sure you’ve got some sort of assurance.
AHQ: Another contract yet to be sorted yet is Emre Can – do you personally think that one will get sorted over the summer or towards the start of next season?
AH: Yes I do, mainly because I think Liverpool are so adamant there’s no urgency over it. They are not panicking over the fact he has 12 months left on his deal.
There have been a series of discussions but to be fair to the player he has been quite open about the reasons why it hasn’t been sorted yet, professional reasons rather than financial.
If he can see himself making progress in the position he wants to play I can see him signing, but if the club go out and sign a number of players to fill the midfield, he may look to move on.
Liverpool are quite emphatic about the fact they remain calm over the situation, hearing Ronald Koeman tell Ross Barkley that will sell him if he doesn’t sign by the end of the season, it is the same contract situation as Can but the circumstances are completely different.
He is worth having and the club hope he will see the light and put pen to paper on a contract – maybe he’s waiting for Champions League football as well!
AHQ: Just finally, if you were the predict the final four games of the season, how would it all shaping up?
AH: I think 3 wins and a draw, I think that will just be enough. Southampton at home or West ham away is where the draw will be – I also think there will be an edginess and apprehension like there was on Sunday. Watford and Middlesbrough have to be maximum points, but there needs to be drastically improved performance levels.
I think 10/12 points will be enough to get them over the line.
You can follow Andy on Twitter here
Interview conducted by Oliver Bond
Written by Anfield HQ